Journal 4

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

Journal 4 doesn’t really have a name like the journals before it. When I started it, in the spring of my last year at Whitman, I felt no particular naming inspiration. That wasn’t as huge of a departure as it seems, though; after naming Exponents, I spent very little effort naming my subsequent journals, which were more or less handed to me with their titles already emblazoned across their covers. Journal 4 is a handsome folio of cocoa-colored leather with no name in sight, so I just opened it up and got to writing.

If Stories was the journal of personal growth, then Journal 4 has been about me re-exploring how I journal. Shortly after beginning it, I started a supplemental diary to hold a series of daily reflections. My personal journals have never been home to regular daily entries, but now I had a diary dedicated to that, and it served as an outlet for smaller thoughts that might occupy a page or less in Journal 4.

Playing with Layout

I began toying with the format of a journal. Soon after diving headlong into my letter-writing enthusiasm and penning correspondences that eschewed the full-page format for tighter, more creative layouts, I applied the same thinking to the pages of my journals. Until that point, all of my journals had looked the same, text flowing from one edge of the page all the way to the other. Now, I was experimenting with entries written in narrow columns (to increase readability), or on pages flipped into a landscape orientation.

I know this sounds like the pinnacle of “pointless shit that does not matter”, but it really made a difference to me. By writing in my journal the way I wanted to, I made it even more personal a space. So much of my history with journaling has been spent learning the importance of that personal space to me, and building it into a place that feels like mine and mine alone. A person writing a landscape page in their journal is hardly noteworthy, I know, but when that person is me, it’s not just about page layout—it’s about definitively proving to myself that my journal is my space, and exists only in service to me. I can indulge and experiment to my heart’s content within those pages. I am beholden to no one.

For someone like me who is still learning to have a firm self independent of others’ expectations, the importance of that perspective can’t be overstated.

Significance and Minutiae

Curiously enough, that adventurous, experimental drive only goes so far with Journal 4. Like I mentioned elsewhere, ever since Exponents, my personal journals have been for a very particular type of content: deeply personal reflections. Sometimes the entries are freeform essays, other times, they’re emotional brain-dumps, but they all meet or exceed some internal sense I have of “significance”. Exponents, Change, Stories, Journal 4; I’ve reserved all of them for writing about my life, particularly the emotional parts of it. Their pages contain no grocery lists, cocktail recipes, or minutiae.

Within the last couple of weeks, a few pieces of reading have made me start to question the purpose of that wall between “significant” reflections and “minutiae”. The first was Kolby Kirk’s post about his Moleskine journals from the Pacific Crest Trail, that it struck me how odd this was. Kolby’s journals tell a story about who he was in 2011 and what he was doing, and not only through the words he wrote. His pages included drawings, postmarks, beer labels, and even a rubbing of a coin he found on the trail, all in addition to his words. His bug repellent-soaked hand smeared the ink on at least one page, and though he originally found that obnoxious, Kolby writes, “I have learned to appreciate that my journal records more than just the words I print on it, for better or worse.”

The second piece of reading is actually a bundle of a few pieces: Josh Ginter’s reflection on a year of daily journaling over at The Newsprint, Mike Rohde’s similar reflection on a year of daily logging, and Roz Stendahl’s explanation of his journal-indexing system. By reading all three of them, I began to appreciate that, like these guys, I use my journal to capture the story of who I am at a point in time. I want to be able to pull a journal off my shelf and recall a little bit of what it was like to be me back then. Not remember everything in impeccable detail–I’ve already learned that’s impossible–but to get an impression. So long as I’m only recording the “significant” parts of my life, there’s a lot about me that’s being lost.

So I’m reconsidering. I don’t know if I’ll ever put a grocery list in Journal 4, but I have a sneaking suspicion that when I’ve finished it and moved on, its replacement will mix minutiae and the Big Significant Things far more freely.